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Community Feature Toot’s Drive-In Embraces New Tech While Serving Up Its Traditional Burgers, Fries, & Homemade Pies

Interview with Toot's Owners Carla and Matt Hilton

Toot’s Drive-In in Howard, Kan., has been serving up burgers and fries since 1955. Indeed, the “Fabulous Fifties” brings to mind cars, cars, and more cars “driving in” to tiny restaurants that didn’t even offer inside seating. These classic drive-ins featured speedy service by “carhops” – sometimes on roller skates – and “fast food” to be eaten right in the car was delivered on metal trays that hung on half-rolled-down car windows. This novel idea was extremely popular at the time, especially on warm summer evenings.

Fast-forward to 2019 and Toot’s Drive-In is one of just a handful of these establishments that continues to be a favorite spot for locals and those passing through alike. In fact, it’s getting ready to celebrate 65 years in business at the same location. Yes, the menu has changed some and a dine-in option was added in the 70s, but the business founded by J.L. and Mary Giesy, whose nickname was Toots, is still thriving.

Today, it’s known for “Fudge Monkeys,” 100-percent-certified Angus beef burgers, and homemade pies. The restaurant even has a few claims to fame. It has been named to The Ultimate Burger Bucket List in Kansas as #4; 12 More Burger Joints in Kansas That Will Make Your Taste Buds Explode as #6; and 11 Hole-In-The-Wall Burger Joints In Kansas With Food So Good It Should Be Illegal as #8!

As owners of Toot’s since 2015, Matthew and Carla Hilton subscribe to SKT’s high-speed Internet, phone, and TV services. Carla can’t say enough good things about Jerald Morgan and Christy Heinen, SKT Service Technicians in Howard.

“Well, I’ll tell you, Christy and Jerald are wonderful,” she said.

They rely heavily on Internet to operate their business, Carla says, including using their Point of Sale (POS) system for orders and processing credit card transactions.

“Christy helped me get everything set up – ran my new line, everything I needed for my POS system. She spent a couple of days (even some on her off-time) helping me … she is a jewel. I would not have been able to do it without her. She really deserves the credit because she was a HUGE help!”

The POS system is a new addition, which allows them to enter orders in the computer and print tickets back in the kitchen. They’re further embracing technology with plans to add online ordering through Facebook.

“If we don’t have Internet, we don’t do business now,” she said.

Online advertising and reviews have really boosted business, Carla said. On their Facebook page, a recent customer raved, “Curly Q’s [fries] were hands-down the best I’ve ever had!” and another recent customer posted, “Awesome food and lots of it.” And yet another, “Our son loved the fresh blueberry pie and our daughter loved the extra cheesy nachos! So glad we stopped in for lunch! Our kids even said we should come back again! It has to be good if our kids want to come back!”

A Look Back at the History of Toot’s

Toot’s Drive-In has changed hands just five times, with members of the same family owning it for 22 years – which includes Matthew and Carla as the current proprietors. Carla’s parents, Carl and Susan Morgan, owned Toot’s from 1985 to 2003. Carla has wonderful memories of working at Toot’s back then.

“I was 10 years old when they bought it – in the fourth grade,” she recalls. “I started doing dishes and then that first summer, I had a step stool at the pop machine and filled the pop. I made 25 cents an hour, and then at the end of the summer, I got a raise to 50 cents an hour, and thought I was really making the money!” She worked there until she graduated from high school, then went off to college.

Carla and her husband, Matt, returned to manage Toot’s from 2001 until 2003, the year her parents sold it to Jim and Debbie Roebuck. It didn’t make sense for Carla to take over the business at the time as she was also working as a registered nurse and had a goal of completing her master’s degree. The business was sold with the stipulation that Carla’s family would have the first opportunity to buy it if the Roebucks ever wanted to sell. It was important to Carla to keep it in the family, so she and Matt bought Toot’s in 2015.

It has stayed a family affair, with Matt and Carla’s teen daughters, Carla’s sisters, and her parents helping out to varying degrees. Matt owns and manages a construction company, Carla continues to work part-time as a nurse practitioner, and the pair are soon opening a liquor store next to Toot’s. The combination of family help and a great crew of employees has allowed them to keep the business going while maintaining their other endeavors.

“If I get in a real pinch, I’ll call my Mom to come help out.” She laughs, “I always tell everybody that I am the owner, but my mother is the real boss. When granny walks in the back door, everybody jumps, because they know she’s gonna tell them how to do it. So, her heart is still there also.”

The Menu

When you go, bring your appetite and try a bit of everything. Their menu features bucket list-worthy burgers, sandwiches, burritos, chicken, and hot dogs. Try one (or more) of their 25 sides including tots, jalapeno poppers, sweet potato fries, corn nuggets, mushrooms, fried pickles, and fried green beans. Be sure to save room for dessert – we like to order it first just to be sure. The “Fudge Monkey” – a tall cup of bananas, hot fudge, and ice cream – is their most popular item, created by Carla’s dad decades ago after Boy Scouts traveling through requested it time after time. Their homemade pies – most still made from scratch by Carla’s 74-year-old mom – are also in high demand, and they sell more than 100 each month.

Insider tip: Try the coconut meringue or German chocolate pies. Or both. You can thank us later.

Toot’s Drive-In

1251 State Highway 99, Howard, Kan.
Special-order pies require 24 hours’ notice
620.374.2345
Find Toot’s on Facebook